SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Aaron Rodgers directed one touchdown drive on Friday night at Levi's Stadium, and it was the kind the Packers hope to have plenty of in the regular season.
On the second series of Green Bay's 21-10 victory over the 49ers, Rodgers engineered a 14-play, 87-yard scoring drive that consumed 7:53 on the clock and had a little bit of everything.
It began with a 21-yard run by Eddie Lacy, included Rodgers catching the 49ers with 12 defenders on the field, required a fourth-and-short conversion by James Starks inside the 10, and was finished off by Randall Cobb's third catch on the drive, a 6-yard TD on the opening play of the second quarter.
"The second drive was exactly what you're looking for," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "The communication was excellent. We were able to stay in favorable down-and-distance. That was a good drive."
McCarthy was noncommittal, but it was likely the only preseason action for Rodgers, who has traditionally sat out the last summer exhibition. Rodgers expressed no qualms about his readiness for the real thing.
Lacy finished with seven carries for 45 yards in two drives, with Starks adding 22 yards on seven attempts. Cobb's three grabs gained 30 yards in all, the last one showing some power as he barreled through a couple of defenders at the goal line to score.
"I was teasing him that he wouldn't have scored that touchdown at 190 (pounds)," Rodgers said of Cobb. "But he's 196 now. It was good to see him finish off that drive the right way."
It was also good to see Rodgers connect with his new tight end, Jared Cook. They hit on a 19-yard pass early to convert on third down, and Cook later added three more receptions with Joe Callahan at QB.
Rodgers felt the first drive was headed for points if not for what he termed a "phantom pass interference call" on receiver Ty Montgomery on a long catch-and-run by Davante Adams. Nonetheless, the production from Cook was another good sign heading into the regular season.
"It was fun to see him get the ball in his hands and make something happen," Rodgers said. "He does a good job over the middle on third down. He's a big body.
"It's going to be fun for us to grow that chemistry over the season."
Callahan certainly had his share of fun from there, leading a pair of TD drives in the second half after just missing out on a score late in the first half. He converted a pair of fourth downs but was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 5 as McCarthy eschewed any field goal tries to put his young QB in pressure situations.
Callahan capped a 12-play, 67-yard drive to open the third quarter with an 18-yard TD pass to Jared Abbrederis, two plays after another fourth-down conversion, this one to Geronimo Allison in the red zone.
Shortly thereafter came "the play of the game," according to McCarthy, as early in the fourth quarter Callahan scrambled out of what looked like a sure sack on third-and-20 and launched a Hail Mary type of throw that Allison pulled down for a 51-yard gain. Running back Brandon Burks ran it in on the next snap from 19 yards out for the Packers' final points.
"I thought Joe made plays," McCarthy said. "He's doing a better job managing the huddle. There's a lot of moving parts there, and Joe has improved each week.
"I look at him, like the rest of our young players, there's so much more to learn."
As for whether Callahan may need to be kept on the 53-man roster at the end of training camp if backup QB Brett Hundley's ankle isn't healed, McCarthy called that a "decision for the future."
In any event, Rodgers was enjoying the Division III Wesley College QB's display, pointing out his best throw of the night actually wasn't caught – a deep heave while rolling to his left that Adams couldn't haul in for what would have been a 38-yard TD.
"I love pulling for those guys," Rodgers said of the young QBs. "It's fun to watch. Joe made some great throws tonight.
"I told him don't let Davante ever forget that. That was one of the sweetest throws I've ever seen. He's a gamer. He goes out there and makes plays."
The Packers' defense allowed an early touchdown when Carlos Hyde got loose for a 27-yard run to set up first-and-goal, but after that, the 49ers had just two first downs on their next five possessions.
Nick Perry batted down two passes, Sam Shields got a piece of one, and Datone Jones tackled 49ers second QB Colin Kaepernick in the backfield on a read-option run to highlight the regulars' effort.
"Our defense did an excellent job getting off the field," McCarthy said.
The bad news were injuries to some reserves that will have to be evaluated. Safety Chris Banjo (hamstring), linebacker Jayrone Elliott (hamstring) and running back John Crockett (shoulder) all left the game. Rookie second-round draft pick Jason Spriggs also came out of the locker room to play left tackle in the second half with his hand wrapped in a club.
In that second half, the Packers' defense came up with three sacks – one each by Lerentee McCray and Christian Ringo, plus a shared sack by Tyler Kuder and Reggie Gilbert. Brian Price deserved some credit for Ringo's clean-up sack as well.
Rookie safety Marwin Evans also had an interception, as the ongoing battle for roster spots continued and the Packers closed out their third straight preseason win, with next Thursday's visit to Kansas City all that's left now.
"What stood out to me was we had a number of young players make plays, and that's what you're looking for," McCarthy said.
"It's three wins, but it's more about the quality of play, and we improved as a football team today."
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